The Matlacha Island Chamber of Commerce conducted its second meeting Thursday night providing progress updates, as well as having special speaker Chris Pendleton, the CEO and president of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, share information with those in attendance.
Matlacha Island Chamber of Commerce President Leoma Lovegrove began the meeting by informing those who attended that they recently changed their name to include island because they are about tourism and business.
"It is going over very well," she said.
The newly formed chamber has roughly 35 members. Lovegrove said the first 50 members will become charter members because they are a part of the history of forming the Matlacha Island Chamber of Commerce.
Although businesses located outside of Matlacha pay $35 a year to be a member, business within the Matlacha community can become a member for free.
Individuals also have an opportunity to become a Friend of Matlacha for $25 a year. Lovegrove said a Friend of Matlacha is someone who loves Matlacha. She said there are plenty of people who want to help them out and becoming a friend is a good way to do so.
"There are people from all over that want to be a part of this history," Lovegrove said, adding that there are 500 people that live in Matlacha during the summer and 1,000 people during the winter months.
Matlacha Island Chamber of Commerce Vice President Mike Shevlin provided an update about the committees that have been formed for the chamber. Those committees include publicity and communication, events, programs for the meetings, fund-raising, government liaison, beautification and cleanup, membership, tourism, social network, kiosk and website.
Shevlin said the government liaison is a big deal for the chamber because it will formulate ideas on how to make Matlacha a little more interesting, while creating a safer roadway with sidewalks.
Kiosk is also another important committee, Shevlin said, because they do not wish to have a building for the Matlacha Island Chamber of Commerce. He said they want to have kiosks available that would hold brochures of Matlacha businesses.
"People can walk up and take it and go about their business," he said.
An update about the old Matlacha Bridge end caps was also provided during the meeting. Lovegrove said although they were not successful in acquiring the end caps, Archer Western Construction is providing the Matlacha Island Chamber of Commerce with 24 tons of the 1964 bridge.
"I'm hoping to make public art and historical markers of them," Lovegrove said once the permits are obtained.
It is hoped the 24 tons of bridge pieces will be located at the new park at the old Snook Inn.
Lovegrove also shared how well Merry Matlacha did during the month of December.
"We feel it was successful," Lovegrove said.
The weekend events during December provided concerts, nightlights, shopping and all kinds of fun things for individuals to do.
"December is when we are slow here and that is when we need business," Lovegrove said.
In addition to Merry Matlacha, Lovegrove said the Matlacha Island Chamber of Commerce benefited from having the main Christmas tree at Edison & Ford Winter Estates. She said 20,000 people saw that tree during their holiday nightlife.
"It was such an honor," Lovegrove said, adding that the tree also had a plaque talking about Matlacha. "It was a good start and boost for us."
Lovegrove introduced Pendleton to those who attended by sharing that she literally saved the Edison Ford & Winter Estates because buildings were falling down.
"It is a United States treasure and it is because of Chris and her steadfastness to make things happen," Lovegrove said.
In addition, she said that Pendleton has helped Matlacha by sending people to the island way before the chamber was formed. Lovegrove said Pendleton has been a mentor for her because she helped her realize that Matlacha is a treasure.
Pendleton said Lee County is a really unique area because of the many chambers of commerce. She said Lee County is about the coast, islands and watery tourism destinations.
"We are a different historic piece of Florida," she said. "Matlacha Island is a big part of what makes us different."
She told the crowd that Matlacha is also an arts community "our little Tarpon Springs in Southwest Florida," as well as a fishing community that you do not find in a walking community.
Pendleton said Edison Ford & Winter Estates began working with Lovegrove and the Matlacha community 10 years ago because Edison and Ford were about the arts.
"There is a lot going on in Matlacha that we need to be tying into," she said.
Pendleton encouraged the Matlacha Island Chamber of Commerce to create a rack card map that they can put on display at Edison Ford & Winter Estates because print material still works. She said 230,000 visitors come to Lee County every year and the estates is one place where visitors come to find out what is going on in Lee County.
The people who visit the estates, Pendleton said, love to park their car, get out and see history. She said their visitors are AAA travelers that like to pick up a brochure.
"It doesn't get any better than Matlacha Island," she said.
A part of her presentation also included some background history of the estates. Pendleton said the history goes back to 1885 when Thomas and Edison first came to Fort Myers, which was followed by building the bones of the property in 1887.
She said Edison began the concept of Lee County potentially being a tourist destination all those years ago.
In 1947 the Edison property was given to the city of Fort Myers and not until many years later in 1990 did the Ford property become available, which was purchased.
The city of Fort Myers realized that they had to put some money back into the property, which eventually equaled $30 million. The county, state of Florida, the city of Fort Myers and private funding assembled $9 million for the project.
Pendleton said in 2006, the city of Fort Myers decided it should separate and the restoration was completed in 2008.
The Edison & Ford Winter Estates has 55 paid staff members and 250 volunteers.
"It's all about keeping a slice of Florida alive," she said.
The estates runs on a $6 million yearly budget and generates about $1 million a year in sales through the retail shop.